Three months of physical activity can improve elasticity in the arteries of older adults with Type 2 diabetes, cutting down the risk of heart disease and stroke, say researchers.

Kenneth Madden, geriatric specialist at the University of British Columbia (UBC), studied adults between 65 and 83 years with controlled Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol to see how increased activity might ease their stiff arteries. “The theory is that aerobic activity makes your arteries less stiff and makes artery walls more elastic,” says Madden.

An improvement was seen in the elasticity of the arteries of the group that performed the activity compared to those who didn’t exercise. “There was an impressive drop in arterial stiffness after just three months of exercise. In that time we saw a 15 to 20 percent reduction.” he added.

The subjects were divided into two groups, to either receive three months of vigorous physical activity (one hour, three times per week) or to get no aerobic exercise at all.

Subjects were classified as sedentary at the beginning of the study, but gradually increased their fitness levels until they were working at 70 percent of their maximum heart rate, using treadmills and cycling machines. They were supervised by a certified exercise trainer.

Beth Abramson, spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, stresses the importance of lifestyle factors on heart health, especially with the ageing population.

“Almost everyone can benefit from active living,” she says. “The foundation recommends that, like adults of any age, older adults - with the consent of their physicians - need 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week.” she added.

Ms. Abramson advises elders to choose activities they enjoy, such as walking, gardening, golfing, dancing, or joining a yoga or tai chi class. If weather is a barrier, she suggests climbing stairs at home, joining a mall-walking group, or strolling the halls of their apartment building or retirement residence.

These findings were presented at the 2009 Canadian Cardiovascular Congress.

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